Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 17, 2013

Phil Power: New model is public-private partnerships


Here are a few examples:

n Public sector unions have, in some places, extracted generous and ultimately unaffordable pay packages from city councils and school boards whose members are elected largely by union votes.

n The start of the Michigan school year was delayed by the Legislature until after Labor Day explicitly to benefit the tourist industry, not kids or their parents.

n And Detroit’s economic downfall certainly hasn’t been eased by continuing shortsighted pressure, as in the latest demand to keep squeezing an extra annual “13th check” out of the city’s underfunded public employee pension fund.

n Political corruption has hurt too, best typified by ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (2002-2008) and his infamous pay-to-play regime.

Sadly, the Great Recession that began in 2008 multiplied and intensified these tendencies. As resources became scarcer, competition among various interests increased.

Increasingly, it isn’t just cynical reporters who are sniffing out hidden interests that benefit from public initiatives.

Today, more and more, the public is raising basic questions about the design, direction and working of programs we once assumed were best left in the hands of government bodies - bodies often publicly elected and, hence, by definition vulnerable to the claims (and cash contributions) of special interests.

So isn’t it time we start recognizing that other sectors in our society — philanthropy, non-profits, even the business community — should be playing increased roles in programs for the good of all?

Isn’t it time we started looking hard at public-private partnerships as a new model for delivery of services to our citizens?

Today, indeed, the philanthropic community is pouring millions into restructuring and re-tasking many lagging public institutions.

Michigan’s foundations, great and small, are heavily engaged: Kellogg, Mott, Kresge, Dow, Hudson-Webber, Skillman, McGregor, among others.

And civic-minded businesses, often encouraged by Business Leaders for Michigan, are playing increasing roles: DTE, PVS Chemicals, Quicken Loans, Masco, Consumers Energy, Steelcase and the auto companies, to name a few.

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